“It is no surprise that it is so easy to use social media to spread intentional disinformation and unintentional misinformation.” - Morgan Wright Click To Tweet
With the 2020 elections right around the corner, do you know who is trying to influence you and how they’re doing it? Listen on to learn about the ins and outs of disinformation, misinformation, interference, and influence.
Morgan Wright is an internationally recognized expert on cybersecurity strategy, cyberterrorism, and advanced technology. His landmark testimony before Congress on healthcare.gov changed how the government collected personally identifiable information. He has made hundreds of appearances on national news – radio, print, and web – and has spoken to audiences around the world.
- [1:21] – Morgan Wright shares his background, including his childhood in a military family and his original college major as music. He moved into law enforcement and then shifted in computer crime.
- [3:26] – Morgan moved into cybercrime because of his interest in both people and technology.
- [4:40] – On 9/11, Morgan was supposed to be in the Pentagon but was in the Reagan building instead. Because of the attacks on 9/11, he was thrown into cyberterrorism as well.
- [6:11] – Morgan also worked for Cisco and was the technical advisor for the show America’s Most Wanted.
- [7:35] – Another facet of Morgan’s career is even working on cold case homicide files.
- [8:36] – The next generation of leadership needs to be educated in technology. Every company is a software company whether you like it or not.
- [10:36] – Disinformation is information that is intentionally changed to achieve a particular objective. The person spreading the information knows it isn’t true, but wants to incite public outrage against someone.
- [11:06] – Misinformation is when someone hears something and believes it to be correct and shares it, to then later find out that it wasn’t accurate information.
- [11:40] – Twitter was monitored to see how quickly disinformation and misinformation spread and it spread faster than legitimate truthful news.
- [12:23] – Russia has been targeting people’s biases by spreading disinformation since 1917 and they understand how to take advantage of how a system works.
- [14:56] – The real danger is when people or organizations understand how news spreads and takes advantage of these algorithms to influence major decisions, events, and even human lives.
- [16:42] – Chris and Morgan discuss Pizzagate as an example of spreading disinformation and misinformation and how the use of social media spreads it extremely fast.
- [17:35] – Interference is a sovereignty issue. Morgan gives an example of how interference is even considered an act of war in some places.
- [17:59] – The United States has spent a great deal of money in the influence field.
- [18:58] – Influence is a massive social engineering operation.
- [21:03] – Disinformation runs so deep that sometimes even trained professionals miss it.
- [21:52] – You do not have to react to every single post you see. Take a moment to digest what you are seeing before you react to it as truth.
- [22:44] – Parents have to be vigilant about what their kids see and read on the internet. You need to curate what your kids view and what you yourself view as well.
- [24:08] – It is important for adults to be adults. Even with opposing views, you need to be able to be an adult and have a respectful conversation with others.
- [25:13] – It seems that we have lost the ability to get things done with others who have opposing views.
- [27:31] – It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has all the data. What happens is you twist facts to fit theories instead of twisting theories to fit the facts.
- [28:13] – Nobody wants to do their own research. They just want information spoon-fed to them.
- [29:31] – The danger of conspiracy theories is that you are fed just enough kernels of truth to make it believable.
- [32:00] – Chris and Morgan discuss a few 9/11 conspiracy theories and why it is easier to believe them than to believe the truth.
- [33:47] – If you listen to the news, don’t believe a thing you hear. Do your own independent research before you share something on social media.
- [35:00] – The oxygen this disinformation and influence operation needs to spread is you. It's you clicking that link and sharing it.
Thanks for joining us on Easy Prey. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and leave a nice review.
Links and Resources:
- Podcast Web Page
- Facebook Page
- Easy Prey on Instagram
- Easy Prey on Twitter
- Easy Prey on LinkedIn
- Easy Prey on YouTube
- Easy Prey on Pinterest
- Morgan Wright Web Page
- Morgan Wright on LinkedIn
- Morgan Wright on Twitter
Morgan, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
You know, the only reason I joined—I’ll just be honest—I like what you guys do. My wife is a huge fan of John Sanford, and John Sanford writes all the Prey books: Easy Prey, Dark Prey. When I told her I was going to be on the Easy Prey Podcast, at first she thought, “John Sanford?” I said, “No, not him, but somebody almost quite as famous.”
Oh, wow, I’d like that. I’d like to be famous. No, I’m really excited to talk to you today about disinformation, misinformation, interference, and influence in the 2020 US elections. Before we dive in, can you share a little bit about your background with the audience?
Sure. Originally, when I was a youth, my dad was actually military. My dad was a World War II and a Vietnam vet. I was an Army brat born at Fort Riley, but we moved around the world. The first foreign country I lived in, I grew up in Tehran, Iran, during the days of the Shahs. My first foreign language I spoke was Farsi. I was there during the 60s, moved back to Kansas, which is where I was born at in Fort Riley, ended up going to college. When I was a freshman in college is when the Iranian Revolution happened. I had a lot of interesting conversations, things like that.
I was a music major in college, believe it or not, but I gravitated towards law enforcement. I started off on Salina PD—bunch of fine folks in the middle of North Central Kansas there—then I became a state trooper and moved out to Southwest Kansas, which is where I met my wife that I’ve been married to now for 33 years, going on 34. She was a dispatcher and records person at the police department.
I moved into investigations, I went to work at the police department because I wanted to get into investigations. The state patrol was not an investigative agency. The KBI was, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. I wanted to get into investigations, investigate violent crime. I started doing that, but I started doing computer crime stuff. I got nominated to do computer stuff because I was the guy who knew how to turn on the first Gateway P75 computers, networked them together with the B and C cables. I understood Windows for workgroups 3.11.
Unfortunately, you’re dating yourself.
Oh, boy, wait till I date myself. When I was teaching computer crime and when I went through my first computer crime course, we were using Norton Disk Editor. The hard drive, the first hard drive I examined was 40 megabytes. It was partitioned into a 32 megabyte C Drive and an 8 megabyte D Drive because that’s all DOS could support at that time. I go way back.
Look, don’t date me too much. Wasn’t it Bill Gates who said one time famously, “640K of RAM ought to be enough for everyone.”
I had this thing: I loved the people side of it, I loved the technology side. I actually used to do a lot of stuff. I went through advanced homicide training and investigations, crime profiling. One of my original instructors was one of the original members of the FBI’s behavioral science unit. I went through the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program training, VICAP. I had this fascination with people, but I also had this fascination with technology.
Kind of fast-forwarding, I knew I needed to make a change because it’s hard to move up when you’re out in Southwest Kansas, smaller agencies. I got involved in a lot of neat stuff. The Oklahoma City bombing, I worked with the FBI on things like that. I wanted to play on a bigger stage, so I had to step out, do some stuff. Actually, Microsoft was one of my first big clients. I did all their worldwide anti-piracy investigations for them. In fact, the first anti-piracy case that we did online resulted in the first-ever civil judgment against an online uploader of pirated software. I would go out to Redmond, Washington, and do stuff.
One thing led to another, ended up coming out to Virginia, working for a big defense contractor, working in the justice and the intelligence community. I was down in Bogota working on Plan Colombia. We were working on Plan Colombia, we were down there with the good folks down there. And then, 9/11 happened, and I was in the Reagan building on 9/11. We’re supposed to be in the Pentagon that morning, meetings got switched, and so our whole focus changed what we were working on.
A lot of the work I originally did was called the Counter Intelligence Shield Activity, Joint Counter-Intelligence Assessment Group, part of DOD. We were working with some three-letter agency kind of stuff to develop these big systems that could analyze massive amounts of data, identify risk, and be able to shorten the decision-making cycle—what they call the OODA loop. We wanted to get inside the decision-making cycle of our adversaries. I ended up working there, then I worked at the Department of Justice on a huge information-sharing program. I was the lead subject matter expert. I actually drafted what they call the Concept of Operations. A lot of what law enforcement does now was based on the original design we did back in 2004, 2005, consolidation of the terrorist watch list.
Sorry, I’m just kind of going off. So much of this stuff, because it involves people and technology, it’s like you’re talking about terrorists but at the same time how do you bring 25 separate systems together to make sure we’re identifying the correct person, protect privacy of citizens and people at the same time but still provide actionable intelligence to our folks.
Did that, I became a senior advisor in the US Anti-Terrorism Associations Program, was over in Pakistan, Turkey, had a lot of fun doing some stuff like that. But at the same time, I was in the big corporate environment doing this kind of work. I was at CISCO, ran their global public safety.
I was the technical advisor for the show America’s Most Wanted for a little over a year. One of the solutions I developed was actually featured on the 1000th episode of America’s Most Wanted. Again, it’s that intersection of chasing the bad guy, developing technology.
My last official “corporate job,” I was a Vice President out at Alcatel-Lucent Labs. We built the first public safety broadband network. Now, it’s called the first step. You come full circle. I've been a Senior Fellow at the Center for Digital Government and my current gig is I'm the Chief Security Adviser for SentinelOne. A really wicked cool company doing stuff with artificial intelligence, machine learning, and really, it's a game-changer in terms of how we approach defending against the threat.
I used to teach at the NSA, so I taught behavioral analysis at the National Security Agency. It's just that intersection. By the way, Kevin Mitnick and I are good friends. Actually, a couple of the guys I trained at the FBI—I did in-service training for the FBI—were a couple of the ones involved in taking down Kevin Mitnick when he was arrested, which I remind him of when we meet up.
I have professional ADD. I do a lot of things, but when I do them, I love doing them. Right now, I'm actually doing a lot of work on something that gets me out of the tech field. I work on a lot of cold case homicide. I actually have three cases sitting behind me right now on the floor, big notebooks, and we're developing a new way to connect people to cases based on what we call social DNA. I think there's some very interesting stuff out there to focus on.
That's really cool. That's a very varied background but all really interesting stuff.
That was the short version; do you want the long version?
I don't know that we have time for the long version today.
Sorry about that. You can edit out whatever you feel like. By the way, one other thing too. Some little farm boy from Kansas. I actually have testified twice before Congress on the safety and security of healthcare.gov. That was interesting being in front of Congress because, obviously, healthcare.gov was a big system. But realizing if folks out there knew—this is both sides of the aisle—how little people, politicians, and members of Congress knew about the things that they are legislating, it would shock a lot of people.
One of my biggest things is we always wanted to make sure we try and teach the next generation of leadership. They know about budgets, they know about money, but I'll tell you—you know it and I know it—they’ve got to know about technology because everything is about software. Every company is a software company, whether you like it or not.The next gen of leadership has to know about technology. Every company is a software company, whether you like it or not. -Morgan Wright Click To Tweet
I've always been very nervous about the legislation coming out about FCC, net neutrality, no net neutrality. I think there's a bunch of stuff. Section 230 proposal changes came out today. Do you know what Section 230 is?
I was actually supposed to be on Cheddar TV today talking about Section 230. I actually tangentially had a big break in one of the homicide cases, cold cases, I'm working on, so we had to have a quick call with the medical examiner. I have turned it down, but actually Ajit Pai is originally from Kansas. I do a lot of stuff for the media and we've met a couple of times when I've been in the green room on some of these news organizations waiting to go on air and had the chance to talk to him.
That's cool. Back to the intelligence community. You've mentioned that you had worked for and with the intelligence community. One of the things that I've noticed on watching news lately is that reporters often talk about the intelligence community telling the government—it doesn't really matter who—that there are these disinformation campaigns happening, and that we need to be prepared.
The one thing that irks me as a television viewer is what's the disinformation. How do I, as a consumer, spot disinformation? It's nice that the government wants to know about it, but if I'm the intended target and I'm the intended person that's being influenced, shouldn't I know exactly what's being talked about? Let's talk a little bit about that. Let's go through some disinformation, misinformation, interference, and influence. Let's talk about each of those.
Let's talk about defining the difference between disinformation and misinformation. Disinformation is part of what they call malign influence. This is information that is intentionally changed to achieve a particular objective. If I was spreading disinformation, I would say that Billy Bob Smith is a known pedophile, let’s say. I know that's not the truth, but I'm spreading disinformation because I want to sow community outrage against Billy Bob Smith. But if I have 10 people tell me that Billy Bob Smith is a pedophile, and all I do is I repeat what I heard from 10 other people, only to find out later it’s not true, that’s misinformation. I believe the information was correct, but I shared it, as opposed to somebody who knows what the truth is. Or it doesn’t even matter if it’s the truth. They know what they’re creating is fictitious. It’s a lie and they spread that information.
Let’s talk for a minute about why disinformation is so effective. MIT just did a research study. I think it’s maybe six months ago, maybe to a year, but they checked. They looked. They watched Twitter because Twitter was a very quick way to be able to monitor conversations, look at keywords, and be able to code those words.
Disinformation and misinformation, fake news—whatever you want to call it—spread six times faster on Twitter than did legitimate truthful news. What does that tell you? It validates what Mark Twain said about a century-and-a-half ago, “A lie can make it halfway around the world before the truth can lace its shoes up,” but it's effective because it hones in on people's biases. They have a cognitive bias (maybe) or they have an inherent bias towards a certain point of view. If they hear something that reflects that point of view, they're willing to spread it, so what the Russians have been good at doing.
By the way, the Russians have been doing this since 1917, since World War I. The original Intelligence Agency was called the Cheka, the VChK. Then, it became the NKVD—some variations there—then, it became the KGB, and now it's the FSB and SVR. The Russians have been doing this game for 113 years. When Facebook was duped in 2016 and Twitter, I don't know that I really blame them because guess what? You got Mark Zuckerberg. I'm sorry, the dude still looks like he's got rosy cheeks. Does his mom know he's playing CEO in a multibillion-dollar company?
I don't care how much AI you put into it. When you put people who are grandmasters of chess, people who have been in the intelligence game for 113 years—at that time, 109 years—they're going to win. You know why? Because they will understand how the system works. They'll understand how to do things that take advantage of the way the system works. If you want to see a great documentary about this—I think it's on Netflix—it's called The Social Dilemma. Listen to what all of these insiders from companies like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Pinterest say about what's happening on the inside.
It is no surprise that it is so easy to use social media to spread not only disinformation, which is intentional but misinformation, which is good-hearted. Misinformation could actually be disinformation, in other words. I receive some disinformation but I believe that it’s true, so I spread it. Now I am not spreading disinformation, I'm spreading their disinformation, but it's misinformation because I believe it to be true. It's kind of a long-winded way to go back to where we talk about disinformation and misinformation. I might just genuinely believe a point of view that is factually later proved to be wrong but I genuinely believe it. That's misinformation. Disinformation is when I intentionally target you with an active campaign to undermine, undercut, create division.
It's interesting because it sounds like the Russians are really just taking advantage of the way these social media platforms and, honestly, a lot of the other internet is designed. They're looking for breaking news. What's topical, what's relevant today, what has velocity. There's increasing discussion of this, so let's push this out more than we would something that doesn't have that same velocity to it.
Remember in 2016, the Internet Research Agency, which is no doubt in arm with the Russian government. I've talked with Vladimir personally about this. I've confirmed this. Is that disinformation or information? No. Just joking. I've never talked personally with Vladimir Putin. But you're talking about a few dozen people, a couple of hundred thousand dollars, and look what they are able to do in the 2016 elections.
To your point, if you can understand how news spreads, if you can understand the algorithms that are used to identify what's breaking, what's trending, take advantage of those things, create groups, and, to your point, not only velocity but you get that inflection point to where you've got a big mass of people, you’ve got critical mass now that when they start taking action, they can actually influence things.
That's the real danger, and what's proved out is when you look at countries like India, some other places over in Southeast Asia, there have been people killed. Men killed simply because rumors spread on social media that they were pedophiles, that they had molested a child, or that they had done something. Enough people believed the group hysteria that they are actually dealing with the death of people who are in no way connected to any of this stuff, but the rumors spread, you had the mass hysteria, and now people have died as a result of rumors spread on the Internet.
It makes me think very similarly of Pizzagate. There's the pedophile ring going on in the basement of this particular pizza place, which doesn't have a basement, and some guy showed up with an assault rifle at the front door. Luckily, I don't believe he actually ended up killing anybody.
That was right over here in DC. That was actually one of the segments shown in the documentary, The Social Dilemma. But people start believing this. They start believing this disinformation. You know the reason that spread, too? One of the reasons that spread is because Facebook and Twitter's own algorithms realized, “Hey, you like stuff like this, so I'm going to connect you with like-minded people.” All of a sudden I've got an echo chamber here where everybody I'm talking to believes in the same thing. It spreads and it spreads. Pizzagate is a perfect example.
But you know the real shame is? The real shame is we've lost the ability to be cynical enough. You got to talk about the advice of Edgar Allan Poe. He said, “Believe nothing that you hear and only one-half that you see.”
That's good advice. We've talked about disinformation and misinformation. We'll cycle back to those in a minute. But interference and influence, are these parallels in the same way disinformation and misinformation are?
They are cousins, absolutely. Interference is a sovereignty issue. If the Russians came over and landed 10,000 troops—AKA Red Dawn, like the old movie—or they came in and they burned down a polling station, or they were in sovereign US territory—that can be called interference. That can be an act of war in some places.
When it comes to influence, let's make sure people understand that the United States has spent a great deal of money in the influence operation as well—psychological operations, influence operations. When you go back and you read all the biographies of the Directors of Central Intelligence—I have a ton of them on my Kindle, on my wicked cool iPad Pro that I recently got right back here; I have so many books on there—they will tell you they spent a million dollars on a spoiling operation on Venezuela. Why? To prevent the spread of communism in the Western Hemisphere because during that time, during the Cold War, we were worried about the spread of communism. We would spend money to influence elections.
Now, if we interfere in elections, that means we will go down and actually steal ballots, change votes, and kill politicians—which is prohibited by executive order (or supposed to be). The Russian campaign in 2016—through the use of disinformation—was actually an influence operation designed to affect how people thought and what they did. What it was, was influence is a massive social engineering operation. That was what it boils down to.
If we've been doing this ourselves, how is it that we're so vulnerable to it? Or is it just inherent in what it is?
When you go back and you look at Reporters Without Borders, there’s a scorecard every year. Look at the nations that have the freest press. Russia and China are around 98–118. Try searching for Tiananmen Square inside the country of China—impossible. Our liberty, our freedom is part of what makes it easy to conduct influence operations like this because we don't have the Great Firewall of China. We don't have a repressive regime that kills reporters, kills newspaper editors, and shuts down entire papers because they don't like what they're printing.
Imagine, for a minute—regardless of who's the President—if the US President just woke up one morning and decided they did not like what the Washington Post wrote. We are taking over the Washington Post and shutting it down. I can tell you, I've got friends on both sides of the aisles. I've got friends who are as far in one direction and I am the other. Nobody wants the government coming in and doing stuff like that. The mere fact that we have this kind of freedom is one of the things that makes it easy for people to use. Basically, they do us in with our own hand.
With great freedom comes great responsibility.
Yes, it does. Actually, as Thomas Jefferson said one time, too, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” We have to be eternally vigilant, ever vigilant against this type of stuff.
Since we've used the word vigilant here, how can we be more vigilant in identifying disinformation and interference? What can we as citizens and consumers do?
Good question. Some of the stuff is so sophisticated, I'm telling you. Even trained professionals miss the disinformation sometimes. You've got trained analysts, you've got trained people that miss the disinformation as well. I think what people need to do is they need to stop, take a breath. Remember, we're not storming the beaches at Normandy here, people. You don't have to react to this.
In fact, I've got to the point on Facebook or Twitter—I’m on there for a variety of reasons. One, it's a great research tool. Two, like what we're talking about—doing my Peloton group, my buddies in Peloton, my Peloton military veterans law enforcement groups—it’s a great way to stay connected to share information about our workouts. When I see stories coming across, it takes me now about half a second to look at a story and realize, as the Scottish say, “It's crap lad, it’s crap.” Don't react to it and do some due diligence.
As we're speaking right now—obviously, this is going to come out later—the decision in Louisville on the Breonna Taylor shooting has been released. There was a lot of misinformation about what's going on. That misinformation led to certain things happening. One of the things that people need to do is just don't spread. Tom Hanks does not come out and do a meme about the Breonna Taylor case. As cool as it sounds, Tom Hanks is not sitting there making memes going, I think I need to make a statement about this case and then somebody spreads it. And because it has Tom Hanks in it, and everybody loves Tom Hanks, they spread it as though it's fact.
Come on, people, as Dr. Phil says, let's get real. Just critical thinking. Step back. I'll tell you, the biggest thing you can do, too, especially if you’re parents—I know you focus in on this, too—I did a lot of research on the effects of social media, suicide, and on kids. Parents have to be vigilant about monitoring what their kids consume, what they see, what they hear. This now, right now, starts forming the basis of what they see, what they believe, how they view the world. Part of it is what can you do short-term, which is just, again, going back to Edgar Allan Poe, “Believe nothing that you hear and only one half that you see.” With parents, they've got to be very vigilant about curating what their children consume.Parents, be vigilant about what kids consume because it forms the basis of what they believe and how they view the world. -Morgan Wright Click To Tweet
But isn't it also true that sometimes the parents need to be careful what they’re curating for themselves? We talked about echo chambers. If you just sit and watch Fox News, or you just sit and watch MSNBC, you're going to be skewed one way or the other. How do you become balanced when news sources are potentially so contradictory on the same sort of news stories?
I tell you that I wish I knew the answer to that question because I would be a millionaire and I wouldn't be doing this podcast right now. I’d be on an island somewhere in my Tommy Bahama. But I'll tell you, it's got to go back to adults being adults.You have to be open to opposing viewpoints. You have to be open to listening to alternate theories. -Morgan Wright Click To Tweet
I’ve got a good friend of mine. He was actually a lawyer on the Watergate Commission. He and I have diametrically opposed political views. But we are great friends. We played in a band together. We were both on the board of a nonprofit together. But because we were adults, we could sit down and have a rational exchange of ideas. I would attempt to convince him of certain things, he'd attempt to convince me of certain things. And, like, on social media and stuff, he's one of the few people I make sure that I watch because you have to be open to opposing viewpoints. You have to be open to listening to not alternate theories in terms of, I think Kennedy was shot by 14 Russians. There's a limit to what you have to be able to put the boundaries around.One of the great tragedies has been that echo chamber. We get to the point where we only hear what we want to hear. -Morgan Wright Click To Tweet
I think one of the great tragedies has been that echo chamber. We get to the point where we only hear what we want to hear. We're incapable of hearing other opinions, and we don't even want to hear it. I'm like you. Even though I've done over 500 segments on the national news around, like I'm fond of saying, I do ones and zeros, not hours and days. I talk about technology, but I've been on networks that would be considered conservative networks, that would be considered liberal, and networks that are—I used to write for The Hill—kind of a center-right publication.
We have lost the ability that I think really a lot of times to sit back. Think about the days of Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan, to where you could still be adversaries, still be the loyal opposition, and still get things done. I look for those things where politicians also need to set the example. I look for those things. Where are the things that we can agree to work on? And let's stop the ad hominem attacks. Let's stop the use of derogatory terms about how we describe everybody. Look, just get back. I like that Ben Shapiro has a saying to it. He says, “Facts don't care about your feelings.”
I think if people got down and they really started doing a better job about researching the facts and being more informed. But nobody's going to do that. We cannot get enough people to do that right now because it's too easy to pick up your iPhone, scroll through Facebook, and get information fed to you based on what you believe. That resonance, that bias tends to be confirmed over and over again because that's the only thing you see.
The challenging aspect is we'd like to think we're in control of what we're watching, seeing, and doing. We think we are. Maybe some of us don't think we are, but I think a lot of people do think, “Well, no. This is the information.” But it's really…I think the confusion for some people is that there's a perception that a particular social media platform has this bias. That it has a left bias, or it has a right bias. I'd say that all of them have both, in that if you're left, you're going to get left. If you're conservative, you're going to get conservative bias in all that you see. If you're a liberal, you're going to get a liberal bias in all that you see. So yeah, they are biased, but I don't think they're inherently trying to push an agenda, but more that they're just that echo chamber for you.
It's interesting because one of the things I'm working on actually is a documentary. A friend of mine executive produces for a major TV personality of a show he has. We actually are working on a documentary right now. It's actually on the JonBenét Ramsey case. One of the things we're doing that's different is we're really going in-depth on it. We're explaining rather than saying the Ramseys had to do it or it had to be an intruder. What we're simply saying is we're going to go deep now on the facts and expose you to all the facts so you can see them.
One of the admonitions I give when we do stuff like that—it actually goes back to Sherlock Holmes. It was basically A Scandal in Bohemia. He said it is a capital mistake to theorize before one has all the data. Insidiously, what happens is that you twist facts to fit theories or twist facts to suit theories instead of twisting theories to suit facts. We get too many people that have figured out this is what they want, so no matter what the theory is, they're going to make the facts fit their particular theory.
Again, it goes back to if you just say facts don't care about your feelings if you just simply go to the facts. I tell you, nobody wants to do their own research. They just want it spoon-fed to them right now because we've become too lazy to do what used to be done.
I remember years ago when I was a detective, I wrote an article about the NORML—the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. I did a ton of research to show how marijuana is this. I don't want to get into a discussion about that because I know people have two sides. What I'm saying is, when I presented my point of view, I backed it up with research. I backed it up with reports. I did a lot of work. I put it as a letter to the editor and I did the research.
Now, I think too many people throw an opinion out on Twitter and somebody repeats it. All of a sudden, that's a fact. It is not a fact, people. It is an opinion. Facts are different from opinions. You're entitled, as I say, you’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts.You’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts. -Morgan Wright, Chief Security Advisor, SentinelOne Click To Tweet
Well, not anymore, apparently. If I remember the expression, we do have alternate facts now.
Oh my goodness, yes. And there was no moon landing. There are people who still believe the earth is flat.
I did have a great previous episode on conspiracy theories and why we believe them. Probably the most disturbing reason why we believe them is because some of them are founded in reality.
That’s the trap with conspiracy theories is they feed you just enough kernels of truth that it sounds real, and then what you do is you insert a variation. I will tell you one of the worst ones. This is the one, to this day, that just ticks me off to no end because I live in Northern Virginia. I walked across the Rosslyn bridge, I saw the Pentagon burning. By the way, the Pentagon is in Arlington County, Virginia, not Washington DC, so the first responders were Arlington County police. Flight 93, which I passed those guys that morning because I drove past Dulles airport and I passed the guys who were going to the airport at Dulles to hijack that plane, which was then eventually flown into the Pentagon.
Don't tell me that this was a conspiracy by the government, that there was no plane that hit. But this is what happened and I think it was a documentary called Loose Change. In spite of all the scientific evidence, in spite of all the parts that were recovered, where did these 93 people go? Or, where did all the people on board go? Where did the pilots go? Where did the flight attendants go? The passengers? We can't explain that, but it's a government theory.
Apparently, at that time, nobody believed Bush was a very smart guy, but he was smart enough to create a conspiracy theory that said the government brought down the Twin Towers. It’s like the moon landing. I posted a meme about the moon landing. I said, Congratulations. In 50 years, nobody's leaked the truth that there was no landing, that you guys had kept it secret.” Come on. Just be cynical. Go back to being cynical and say, ‘Nah, I don't believe you.’
I have my own perspective on why people want to believe 9/11 conspiracies is that it's much easier to believe that there was this massive conspiracy, this evil force at work in the government that involved hundreds, if not thousands of people, than to believe less than 20 guys could have wreaked so much trauma in the United States in such a short period of time and we didn't know about it. And seeded with that, that's a whole lot scarier of, “Oh my gosh, I'm not as safe as I really think I am.” So it's easier to believe in a conspiracy.
And I will tell you, I looked at that. Actually, I ended up briefing at that time the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, James Comey, the attorney general John Ashcroft. They took a lot of our material for the 9/11 Commission hearings. Six of the 19 hijackers had contact with law enforcement. Nawaf al-Hazmi was stopped in April of 2001 by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and written a traffic ticket. Yet in August of that year, the State Department put him on a watch list. Why do you put somebody on a watch list for coming into the country when they're already in the country? One of the biggest findings out of the 9/11 Commission was a failure of imagination. We could not imagine that somebody would hijack four airplanes and fly them into things.
There's a great little exercise I used to teach people in intelligence and detectives. It's hard to do on a podcast, but if you guys will do this, take a sheet of paper and draw three rows of three dots. So it's like a box. Three rows of three dots. What I want you to do is connect all nine dots with four straight lines. Don't take your pen off the paper, and what happens is people stay within the lines.
Some of you will figure it out, but you have to go outside the box. That's where outside-the-box thinking actually came from. The good guys, we have to operate within the box, but to defeat the bad guys, we have to think outside the box. You can't operate outside the box, but you can think outside the box. When you go up way above the top of a top line and then come down, back over, and up, you can connect all nine dots with four straight lines if you will just take a chance and think outside the box.
I like that. Is there anything else, any final words of advice that you have for the audience before we finish up today?
Well, I'm going to assume that this podcast will make it out before the November 3rd elections.
Yes, it will.
Here's my challenge to everybody. If you listen to the news, don't believe a thing you hear. If you hear something that strikes a chord, then do your own independent research before you share it on social media, before you share it with a friend. Or ask a friend. Say, “Look, here's what I saw. What do you see? What's your opinion?” Get a conversation going. But for heaven sakes, do not share something simply because it showed up in your newsfeed.
If you want to defeat disinformation, I think one of the best tactics is to do nothing. Don't share it. Don't send it to your friends. Don't say that Joe Biden is a known criminal and Donald Trump is about to invoke the War Powers Act and impose martial law. We have survived over 200 years in this country with peaceful transitions of power. We will have another one because—I'm biased—we're the greatest nation on Earth. I've been to probably 60 different countries. I will tell you, the United States is the greatest nation on Earth. No offense against our UK friends, but we did win the war so they need to deal with that.
I'm telling you, people. Just try doing this. Try for 48 hours doing nothing. Don't click a link, don't share information, don't spread anything, and just let things kind of die a natural death because the oxygen that this disinformation needs and these people who commit influence operations, the oxygen is you. It's you clicking that link and sharing it as soon as you get it, which creates the virality. The kill chain is kill the virality. Don't do anything for 48 hours. If you still think it's a good idea after 48 hours, do a little bit of research, find reputable known sources. Then if you think that this is true, then do what you feel like you need to do.
That is great advice. If anyone wants to follow you and find out more about you, how can they find you?
Well, it's classified, I’d like to tell you, but no.
We will not disclose your address or your phone number, but how can they find you on social media, which we've told them to avoid?
Yeah, don't go on social media, but if you do want social media, well, first of all, as I said, I represent a great company. I'm the Chief Security Advisor for SentinelOne, so sentinelone.com and @sentinelone. For me, it's @morganwright_us or morganwright.us. I'm on LinkedIn, too. I've been all over, so if you can't find me on the Internet, you are not trying hard enough.
That's awesome. Thank you so much, Morgan.
Thank you, and congrats, too, on doing this because we need more podcasts that take the time to educate people, get people to think critically, and take action. The biggest thing you got to do is take action.
Thank you. That's awesome.